For the first time since President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, he made an unprecedented visit last Thursday to the State of Utah to meet with top LDS leaders in Salt Lake City. His visit came on the eve of the holiest weekend of the year for the LDS Church celebrating Easter, General Conference, and Christ’s and the Church’s birthday. Is such a visit by the world’s most powerful leader and his fully staffed entourage, to a state that has traditionally despised him and voted against him and all of his policies, just a coincidence?
Obama’s stated purpose for the visit was very carefully worded by White House Press Secretary John Earnest:
“I know the president also is looking forward to the opportunity that he’ll have to meet with some leaders in the LDS church who are in town for the conference there, so I know the president’s looking forward to that opportunity….Obviously, we’ve got Christians all around the world who are celebrating Easter this weekend, and so it’ll be a good time for him to spend a little time with the LDS leadership as well.”
Please note the words Christians, LDS Church, Easter, “good time” and LDS Leadership. Also keep in mind that the President’s visit was Thursday night and only lasted for 20 minutes. He would leave town very quickly the next day and well before Easter. But, the way Press Secretary Earnest said it made it seem like Obama was going to be a special guest at General Conference. Obama did not even stay, however, for the very weekend they claimed was the reason the president came.
Does anyone else smell something fishy here? One thing is certain — Obama is clearly “thanking” the LDS Church by going out of his way to call us Christian, to mention Easter in the same sentence as LDS, and to throw his public support behind the church’s leaders. These are definitely not the usual positive comments we get from uh… well, hardly anyone… anywhere, let alone from the man who got less than 10% of the vote in Utah in back-to-back presidential elections. This has all the ear markings of a political payback.
There are at least two reasons I can think of that would rise to the level of a special presidential thank you / payback visit.
1) The LDS Church has recently come out strangely in favor of LGBT rights and
2) Utah / the Church is poised to be an otherwise unlikely advocate for further Immigration “reform.”
Let’s take the LGBT issue first.
While the nation’s eyes have been on Indiana for their bold and controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which activists say does not protect LGBTs from discrimination, and while other individuals are standing up against the same sex marriage movement such as the Pizza company who says it will not cater a gay wedding, President Barack Obama is meanwhile thanking the church for its leadership in Utah’s new Religious Freedom, Anti-Discrimination law.
In its own news release, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said the president also “expressed his appreciation for the church’s leadership role in seeking a balance between religious freedom and nondiscrimination,” referring to the recently passed law that bans housing and job discrimination against gays and lesbians (SLTribune – Read here).
Keep in mind, the meeting only lasted 20 minutes. The stated purpose for coming to Utah was to meet with LDS leadership during Easter. Thus, anything and everything beyond initial niceties represents an agenda item for President Obama. Noting the LDS Church’s leadership role in favorable LGBT legislation is both deliberate and important.
As a side note, should LDS people or any people of faith be heartened by an endorsement from a pro-gay marriage president, who is also possibly the worst president in American history when it comes to every important issue including religious freedoms ?
Check out this short clip highlighting the issue in Indiana, where Governor Pence is still under fire from huge names such as Apple’s CEO, Angie’s List and countless others, some of whom were calling to boycott Indiana business including the NCAA Tournament.
After I watch this video I find myself wanting to stand with Indiana! Isn’t that what the church has ingrained in us? To stand up for free speech and fight for freedom! Indiana’s law, ironically, is the same as Illinois’ Religious Freedom law as well those of other states. Religious Freedoms laws were actually heavily promoted by Bill Clinton in the 90’s and many states established such laws, in bi-partisan fashion. But now apparently, all those laws are outdated.
So what’s the big difference between Indiana’s and Utah’s legislation? Doesn’t the Utah bill allow for religious rights of conscience exemptions, like Indiana’s? Why are so many people demonizing Indiana while President Obama and many of the people and organizations who support him, praising Utah and specifically the church? I’ll leave that for your research, but for me it ‘s a huge red flag.
Now let’s talk about LDS Support of Immigration Reform.
In addition to discussing the faith’s international humanitarian efforts, he spoke with Henry B. Eyring and Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the governing First Presidency and apostles L. Tom Perry and D. Todd Christofferson about what a White House spokesman called the “broken immigration system” (SLTrib).
I can almost imagine how this played out. Elder Eyring was asking President Obama some off-topic question in the last 30 seconds of their 20 minute visit, when the White House spokesman nicely interrupted to make sure they covered the agenda items. Talking point number two: “Broken Immigration System.” That’s code for “We appreciate your support and look forward to our continued work together on more ‘reforms.'”
Utah is a strange ally in Obama’s fight against legal immigration. Up until 2011 the church maintained a position of neutrality on this controversial issue.
In an article entitled The Mormon Church and Illegal Immigration, PhD Ronald W. Mortensen, a retired career U.S. Foreign Service Officer and member of the LDS Church, lays out the history of why the LDS Church has mostly been against illegal immigration. But he points out in his article in 2011 that:
Members who oppose illegal immigration fear that the Church is abandoning its traditional, unwavering support of the rule of law. They also express concern that the Church appears to be biased in favor of illegal immigrants and that it is increasingly taking positions that weaken the rule of law and move the Church closer to a social justice position.
This fear and trend is now being realized. Most intelligent people see right through the ulterior motives of people like Obama who have no regard for the rule of law and who are only looking to increase their electoral base. And apparently our good leaders in the LDS church are now getting behind Obama in his corrupt politics. After all, it’s a new era of “building bridges” and “finding common ground.” Stand with everyone, be nice, make friends, be popular, and ultimately stand for nothing.
To best illustrate the background on the church’s sudden interest in immigration as well as its most recent support of LGBT laws, I am including the following article by Carl Wimmer, a former LDS Utah House of Representatives member. His blog and this post can be found at An American Dream Revealed. This is a must read!
The Role of The LDS Church in Utah’s Politics
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just passed a pro-LGBT piece of legislation in Utah.
Does that sound odd to you? It does to me, but it is essentially true.
For years, there have been those in the Utah legislature who have pushed for statewide legislation that would prevent businesses and landlords from prohibiting homosexuals from working at their business or renting a home from them; they called it a “statewide anti-discrimination” bill.
And for years the legislation failed.
Year after year the bill sponsor would bring the bill forward simply to have it die before it got off the ground, but this year was different. This year the most powerful entity in the state of Utah, the LDS Church, endorsed the legislation.
This year the legislation passed.
Having served in the Utah legislature, I have been asked several times what role the LDS Church really plays when it comes to Utah politics, and until now I have remained largely silent. While in the legislature I was a faithful member of the LDS Church; to speak of things that might bring embarrassment to the church would have been unwise, not to mention political suicide. Today, the issue is very topical with the recent passage of the pro-LGBT legislation, and I feel it is time to break the silence and provide some insight.
A common question from people is whether or not the LDS Church leadership gets whatever they want when it comes to Utah politics, and the answer is a resounding, “Yes; if the LDS Church wants something in Utah politics, they get it.”
To be absolutely fair, they rarely want things badly enough to engage openly. The church is very selective regarding the legislation they engage. This is due to the fact that because most of Utah’s legislators are LDS members, the majority of legislation already aligns with the LDS Church position without their influence. During the three terms I served in the Utah House of Representatives, I was only approached twice by the LDS lobbyists for a vote.
John Taylor and Bill Evans are full-time employees of the LDS Church and their job is to monitor the Utah Government, and to act as the paid lobbyists on behalf of the church. They regularly meet with legislators behind closed doors, (as do other lobbyists, this is nothing nefarious or unusual,) to push the agenda of their employer.
When the LDS lobbyists contact a legislator, the conversation goes like this:
We are here to discuss such-and-such bill. We have received our orders “directly from the top,” and we want you to vote for this bill.
They mention that they received their orders “from the top,” so that the legislator would know unequivocally that the LDS Church’s First Presidency sent them.
The first piece of legislation they contacted me about dealt with alcohol. For better or worse, it is an unarguable fact that legislation regarding alcohol never gets passed without the express consent of the LDS Church. They control all changes to the state alcohol laws.
In 2008, SB 211 was proposed to remove “flavored malt beverages” from grocery stores and place them for sale in state liquor stores only. The day the bill was to be heard in the House of Representatives, I was summoned to the hall, where I was met by the LDS lobbyists. They gave me the “from the top” introduction, and then asked me to support the bill. I told them no. Although not a drinker, I simply could not bring myself to take a profit-producing legal product out of the hands of private business owners and give it to the state to sell. It was wrong then, and it is wrong now.
Keep in mind, that in 2008 I was a faithful Mormon with a current temple recommend, and had only recently been released from my LDS leadership position as an Elders Quorum President. To tell my church leaders “no,” was anathema to how I was raised. As I turned to walk back into the chambers, one of the lobbyists said to me, “Don’t worry, voting against us will not affect your church membership status,” I was relieved.
SB 211 passed.
Learning how powerful the LDS Church was politically, several pro-life legislators and I set up a meeting in my office with the two LDS Church lobbyists. Our intention was to recruit the LDS Church in the battle for the right-to-life. For weeks we had worked on legislation that would prove to make Utah the leader in the fight against abortion. We presented our idea and expressed our eagerness to have the LDS church help in the fight to pass a bill that had failed the year before. They turned us down flat, telling us that “the First Presidency has made it clear to them that they will not engage on abortion issues.”
We asked them why they had come out so strongly on alcohol use, but would not engage in the fight for the life of a baby. And in what can only be described as a brief, unguarded moment, the head lobbyist expressed his confusion as to the apparent misappropriation of priorities, but they stuck to their guns.
Then came 2011; the year my rose colored glasses regarding the LDS Church got scratched a bit.
HB116 was an extremely controversial bill dealing with illegal immigration and proposed issuing state worker cards to illegal immigrants. For at least two weeks prior to the final passage of HB116, the two church lobbyists practically lived in the back halls of the state capitol and in the office of house leadership. I was vocally opposed to the legislation, but was still contacted repeatedly by both lobbyists who attempted to change my opposition. The calls became frequent enough from the LDS Lobbyists, that I stopped taking them.
What bothered me most was when my local ecclesiastical leader contacted me and attempted to persuade me to vote for the bill as well. When I asked him, “Who from the Church headquarters had asked you to contact me?” he simply confirmed that he had been asked, but would not say by whom.
The night HB116 was debated for final passage was insane. There was intensity I had never felt before or after on the house floor. It was the intensity that comes only from political bullying, and it killed me to know that this time the “bully” was my own church.
I was approached by a younger representative who was on the verge of tears. He expressed to me that he had just gotten out of a “PPI meeting” and asked if I had had mine yet. I knew what he meant and I was sorry for him.
A legitimate “PPI” or “Personal Priesthood Interview” is conducted within the confines of the LDS Church. It is an ecclesiastical meeting between an LDS leader and a male member under their “authority.” When I was an Elders Quorum President, I held PPI’s with the elders under my charge. A PPI is used to check on the spiritual welfare of the man being interviewed, and to make sure they are on the “straight and narrow.” But that is not what this legislator meant…
What he had just experienced was an intense, closed-door meeting with select members of house leadership and the LDS Church lobbyists who made it abundantly clear that when HB116 came up for a vote, he was to support the bill, period.
Sometimes, if the legislator felt strongly enough about the legislation, they would allow him to vote against it, but ONLY after the bill had the necessary votes recorded to ensure passage. This was the deal this particular representative was under, and both he and I knew it. He was clearly shaken and expressed that he had no idea that his “church would do this kind of thing.” I hurt for him.
House leadership was split on HB116, so when I saw a member of house leadership who I knew was opposed to the bill walk onto the house floor, I went up to him and engaged him in conversation. The following is our word-for-word conversation:
Me: Hey, (name of House leader) how much of what is going on tonight regarding HB116 has to do with the LDS church?
Him: All of it; I hate this.
Me: It’s going to pass isn’t it?
Him: Yes, and in fact if the vote is close, I have to vote for it, I have no choice.”
Me: You had a PPI?
Him: Yep…(walks away).
HB116 passed as the LDS Church lobbyists looked on from the gallery.
I was not in the legislature this year, but the look and feel of the passing of HB116 and the current non-discrimination bill are quite the same. One can only guess how many legislators had “PPI’s” before the vote on the church-endorsed LGBT legislation, but there is no doubt in my mind, that as legislators read this blog, one or more of them will know precisely what I am talking about.
So, what role does the LDS Church really play when it comes to Utah politics? From my experience, it all depends on how badly the church wants a specific piece of legislation passed.
Obama’s visit and show of support is nothing more than a political payback for the church’s role in pro-LGBT and pro-illegals legislation. This should concern us all deeply.
Telling our elected officials how to vote, and to vote against their beliefs, which are ironically often inspired by past church leaders teachings, is frankly unconscionable.
But the good news is the church has Obama’s sustaining vote, and I guess that’s all that matters.